Choosing What to Delegate to Your Virtual Assistant

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The 4-Hour Workweek" by Tim Ferriss. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

Like this article? Sign up for a free trial here.

Once you hire a virtual assistant, how do you know what to delegate? How do you choose what tasks to assign?

In The 4-Hour Workweek, Tim Ferriss explains how you choose what to delegate to your virtual assistant. Ferriss provides a list of criteria and a questionnaire to help.

Keep reading to learn what to delegate and how to choose.

What to Delegate

Regardless of whether you’re an employee or an entrepreneur, you can assign your VA both personal and professional tasks. But how do you now what to delegate?

Regarding personal tasks: your non-working time isn’t free if you have other non-work obligations, and VAs provide all sorts of personal services ranging from voicemail transcription, to organizing your child’s birthday, to even emailing your parents for you. 

Regarding professional tasks: VAs can help you out with anything that can be done remotely. If you’re an employee, as long as you don’t give the VA sensitive or confidential parts of your job, the author says there’s no legal or ethical reason to tell your boss you’re employing someone to do parts of your job for you. (Shortform note: You may want to check your employee contract and/or handbook before doing this.)

To brainstorm tasks as you decide what to delegate, consider:

  • Whatever’s been on your to-do list the longest.
    • For example, a small business might ask a VA to help them update their website.
  • Anything that interrupts you.
    • For example, you might ask a VA to filter your emails for you.
  • Whatever causes you the most emotional strife.
    • For example, if you have anxiety around talking on the phone, you could ask your VA to make calls for you.
  • Something that’s fun. 
    • For example, whenever Howard Hughes of The Aviator wanted to invite a woman to his table in Las Vegas, he asked one of his assistants to approach her for him and get her to sign a waiver before she joined him.

Assume the best of people—believe that they can do more than grunt work. But if a VA doesn’t do something well, remember that you can always take it back yourself.

Delegation Criteria

Once you’ve come up with some possibly delegatable tasks, test them against the following criteria:

  • Tasks must be important. As mentioned in step E (Eliminate), the first thing to do to save time is to stop doing unimportant things. Before you figure out what to delegate or actually delegate anything, first consider if you could eliminate it from your life or make it more efficient instead. If you delegate something unimportant or needlessly time-consuming, you may be saving yourself time, but you’re wasting a VA’s time, which also wastes your money. 
    • Example #1: You could ask a VA to help you read your email, but you could also set up automatic filters and autoresponders that answer common questions.
    • Example #2: Many people ask assistants to schedule meetings for them, but if you can just eliminate meetings, this is another task no one has to.
  • Tasks must be time-consuming. If it takes you longer to assign a task than it would for you to do it, it’s not a good candidate. 
    • For example, it takes a long time to write a book. The author asked some of his VAs to write part of this chapter for him.
  • Tasks must be specific. If you don’t know exactly what the task is or involves, keep it yourself.
    • For example, say you want to improve your relationship with your mother. This is a vague task with no specific actionables, so don’t assign it.
  • Tasks must be remote-friendly. Your VA won’t have physical access to your computer, calendar, or hard copy files, so you may need to get software or an app to streamline things.
    • For example, if you’re going to ask your VA to schedule meetings for you, both you and your VA will need access to an online syncable calendar.

Delegation Questionnaire

This questionnaire can help you decide what to delegate. When deciding whether you should eliminate, delegate, or do a task yourself f, consider the following:

  • You should eliminate the task if the answer to all of these questions is yes:
    • Is it unenjoyable?
    • Is its effect on your income negligible?
    • Is it optional?
  • You should delegate the task if the answer to any of the following questions is yes:
    • Is it unenjoyable AND does it generate income AND is it possible to delegate?
    • Is it obligatory AND possible to delegate?
  • You should do the task yourself if the answer to any of the following questions is yes:
    • Will it be enjoyable?
    • Does it generate income AND would be impossible to delegate?

How to Assign Tasks

It’s important to clearly communicate tasks to your VA. If you’re not used to giving directions, assume most initial problems are your fault because you failed to explain tasks well. When you write to your VA to assign them a task, do all of the following as part of your initial email:

  • Be specific with your directions. Regardless of what languages your VA speaks, write English at a grade 2 reading level and make sure there is only one way to read each of your sentences. Ask your VA to rephrase your directions to make sure they understand before they get started.
  • Ask the VA to report back to you in a few hours with a status update. This will help you control the amount of time spent and let you know if a task is impossible.
  • Give short deadlines. Everything should be due within 72 hours and ideally within 24-48. This mitigates Parkinson’s Law. If you do need a long-term or bigger task done, divide it into chunks. Short deadlines are a good argument for having a team of VAs—a team won’t be overwhelmed the same way a single person juggling many clients and/or tasks might.
  • Send a maximum of two tasks at a time. If you send more than one, tell the VA which is priority.
Choosing What to Delegate to Your Virtual Assistant

———End of Preview———

Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Tim Ferriss's "The 4-Hour Workweek" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full The 4-Hour Workweek summary:

  • The 4-step process to live a "retired" lifestyle now
  • Find out if you're wasting the best years of your life working a 9-5
  • How to create a business that makes you money without sucking up your time

Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *